Behind the scenes with Alex Rotas
Sports photographer Alex Rotas explains the motivation behind her emotional images
Sports photography is full of challenges – it is fast paced, sometimes unpredictable and requires constant concentration, on the part of the photographer. Alex Rotas, is a sports photography expert with a special mission – to capture senior athletes, in an effort to dispel myths surrounding old age. We talk to Alex about her work.
What are your greatest photographic interests and why?
My main interest is in taking photos of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s who still compete in national and international events in the sport they love. I’ve ended up specialising in masters athletes: track and field competitors in the 60+ age groups. The reason is I’m interested in challenging preconceptions about ageing and in providing an alternative visual narrative to the dominant depressing one that so often tends to portray older people as inevitably frail, feeble and decrepit. Ugh!
2-What motivated you to start making images of older generations?
As a sporty older person myself, I knew there was another story to this mainstream one that was so depressing. There just didn’t seem to be the visual imagery to document it. The more I’ve got involved in this work, the more I find myself wanting to describe myself as an activist! There is so much ageism about and I feel I’m involved in the battle against it.
3-How do you approach the subject to tell the story you envision?
Whenever I’m at events with older people I always want to make sure that their face is visible, even if I also want to make sure their bodies demonstrate them taking part in the activity they love. That’s because I think the focus and determination you can see in their expression is what makes them look full of life – and hence wonderful. It doesn’t matter if they have wrinkles – we all do as we get older. Wrinkles aren’t what make us look ‘bad’. It’s passivity that makes a person look lifeless. So I love focussing on the energy and expression you can see on their faces as they are engaged in their sport.
4-How and why did you become involved with the Patient Portraits project?
This Patient Portraits project is exactly the sort of project that fires me up! It’s for such a worthwhile cause – I didn’t know myself very much about heart valve disease and I can see now how important it is to know the warning signs and above all to get early treatment. So this is a cause worth publicising. And then the overall brief resonates so much with the rest of my work, namely the challenge it issues to commonly held preconceptions. In this case it’s about heart disease, and predominantly the notion that if you have heart disease, your life will be pretty much over. How wrong is that? Answer: VERY! This powerful project will demonstrate this beautifully.
5- What is your involvement with the project?
I’m one of the judges so I’ll be looking at entries as they come in from the regional to the final dates.
7-Why should people get involved with the competition?
People should get involved with the competition for so many reasons. It’s a worthwhile cause that’s acting in the public interest, namely raising awareness of heart valve disease. The brief is challenging. That means that for photography enthusiasts with an interest in photographing people, it will stretch their skills. And if they reach the final stages they will meet and form a relationship with someone who has been through heart valve interventions and this will inevitably be an enjoyable and rewarding process. Plus it’s a high-profile competition with the chance to have your pictures displayed at the Houses of Parliament later in the year. What’s not to love at every stage of the project?
8-What’s next? What are your personal photographic ambitions for the future?
I’m continuing to enjoy photographing elite athletes and I welcome every opportunity (and they seem to be coming my way now) to learn about, and photograph older competitors in different sports too. I’m also increasingly enjoying photographing people right at the other end of the fitness spectrum, namely older people who are starting to exercise in local grassroots projects, after maybe not having done much physical activity for some years. I was delighted to find that the kinds of images I was getting are very similar, irrespective of whether someone is throwing a beanbag in a village hall or a javelin in a national stadium: there’s focus, determination and also joy to be seen. All these are the outcome of exercising in a community, whatever your community might be.
I’ve got an exhibition coming up in Scotland this summer and we hope to make that a touring show afterwards, so that’s taking a lot of my time. And I’m also enjoying doing as much media work as I can, spreading the word about older people who are challenging themselves and also challenging society’s expectations of what they should and can be doing.
9-Tell us a little more about yourself and your photographic career
I was a late-comer to photography and didn’t pick up a ‘proper’ camera till I was over 60. My project actually led my photography rather than the other way round. I decided there weren’t enough images in the public domain Then I remembered that I didn’t know anything about photography and what’s more didn’t have a camera either! But I do love learning new things and I was lucky enough to find a local tutor who was prepared to take me on. This was in 2010. I used to be an academic and she was younger than the students I’d been teaching! But she was absolutely brilliant and I feel I owe everything to her.
Find out more about Alex and her photography on her Website